There is a growing suspicion that the report of a severed fingertip found in a bowl of chili at a California Wendy's restaurant was a hoax.
All of the restaurant's employees still have all their digits. And none of the restaurant's suppliers have a reported incident involving the loss of a finger.
Now the Associated Press has reported that the woman who claims she bit into the finger while eating chili has a history of filing lawsuits -- including a claim against another fast-food restaurant.
Anna Ayala, 39, who hired a San Jose, Calif., attorney to represent her in the Wendy's case, has been involved in at least half a dozen legal battles in the San Francisco Bay area, according to court records.
She brought a suit against an ex-boss in 1998 for sexual harassment and sued an auto dealership in 2000, alleging the wheel fell off her car. That suit was dismissed after Ayala fired her lawyer, who said she had threatened him.
The case against her former employer was settled in arbitration in June 2002, but it was not known whether she received any money.
That's a higher than average record of going into court over a period of seven years.
Ayala dismisses questions about her litigious nature as just part of a pattern in which she is the victim. She acknowledges that her family received a settlement for their medical expenses about a year ago after reporting that her daughter, Genesis, got sick from food at an El Pollo Loco restaurant in Las Vegas. She declined to provide any further details.
Apparently, for all the time she has spent filing suits, Ayala hasn't yet seen a big payoff. That could change if she gets to tell her story about chomping down on a fingertip to a jury and the jury is convinced that her claim is legitimate.
On the other hand, if it turns out that this is a hoax -- and a number of cases involving contaminated food products have turned out to be just that in recent years -- Ayala should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Charges of extortion would seem to be in order. Filing a false report would also be appropriate. And, if it turns out the finger was from a cadaver, abuse of a corpse is a possible charge.
In addition, Wendy's should countersue -- not that her assets would even be a fraction of the losses Wendy's has suffered, but a strong message must be sent to anyone else contemplating a high-profile hoax.
If Ayala was the victim, she will have finally hit the litigation jackpot. If Wendy's is the victim, Ayala deserves to be carted off to jail, penniless.